Few brands have resonated across classes as Marantz has. Even if you’re an elitist audiophile, you can’t dismiss the impact the brand has had over the decades across the board, from entry-level to its flagship models.
Of course, over the past few decades, Ken Ishiwata’s influence loomed large over the sound of Marantz and his untimely demise came shortly after the announcement of the NR1200. One can’t help but hope (and feel) that his golden ears contributed to the tuning of this slim stereo receiver that aims to resurrect memories of classic Marantz from the 80s.
Only half in height
The slim-line chassis offers advantages in terms of size, aesthetics and in the case of the NR1200, even acceptance as a hi-fi product. Being a stereo-only network receiver, the NR1200 claims 75W per channel but it’s the way the amplifier section is designed that sets the NR1200 apart from others in the price range. With separate, symmetrical left and right power amplifiers, they share a centralised power supply but with independent windings for each critical function. That means the power transformer is wired independently from the circuits of the amplifier, preamplifier, wireless module and front display, which should improve channel separation, reduce crosstalk, and help preserve clarity. It also features two separate DACs per channel in a bid to increase dynamic range and improve S/N ratio, especially with lower quality sources. With a lot of wireless connectivity onboard in the form of two-way Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, HEOS, Spotify and Tidal among others, there is practically no limit to the format or quality of signal you can play through the NR1200. Since it's a stereo-only model, albeit with a full-spec video passthrough, it will also downmix any multichannel signal to stereo for easy and assured compatibility with your stereo speakers. Hi-Res Audio and Roon users are taken care of too, cementing the NR1200’s position as an audio-first product.
In terms of aesthetics, it mimics the now-familiar Marantz look with two knobs on either side, flanking a display that can also be used for a complete set-up, if you don’t wish to use the video section at all. Turn on the Pure Direct mode and the video circuitry is bypassed completely, leaving a blank window that makes the NR1200 look much like a traditional integrated amplifier. If you choose otherwise though, you get an up-to-date video processor that can handle 4K/60, HDCP 2.3, BT.2020 pass-through, HLG/HDR10 support, all via 5 inputs and one ARC-output. It even looks after gamers and streamers with an Auto Low-Latency Mode (ALLM) with compatible TVs and dual-band Wi-Fi. Direct access to tone and balance controls solidify its position as a music-first amplifier though and the front panel USB input opens up additional possibilities to plug-n-play your (or your guests) music.
Tuned by Marantz sound masters, is what the promotional material claims but a minute into my own listening session and I couldn’t help but agree at the bold claim. From the outset, what strikes you is the musicality of the NR1200, giving away the fact that it has been fine-tuned by golden ears, not entirely governed by spec-sheets and measurements. James Blake’s minimalist Atmosphere is delivered with precision, which isn’t easy, thanks to the attack and decay of the piano that reverberates in the recording space against a haunting vocal track and delicate synth. The timbral accuracy is up there with some of the best integrated amplifiers, yes some much above its price category but it’s also the verve with which the NR1200 presents the music. Its timing is ace and has enough control over your woofers to ensure that the low frequencies are delivered with heft and authority without sounding slow or bloated. Switching to Pure Direct mode and the presentation becomes even tighter, imaging a bit more sharper and the focus locked dead in the centre, making it hard to believe that this indeed is a sub-Rs. 75,000 do-it-all amplifier! Alicia Keys’ She Don’t Really Care_1 Luv is delivered with all the propulsive attack modern R&B recordings are capable of, at the same time showing refinement and airiness in the xylophone parts which simply sound like it’s floating in the room. Sound quality from AirPlay isn’t bad either and only under critical, 2am listening session would you be able to hear big differences, but of course, as expected streaming tunes do lack the body and depth that you’d get from a wired source.
The NR1200 is more than a match for a dedicated stereo integrated amplifier that claims to be a purist. Sure, it has a ton of other functionality like streaming audio, control of other HEOS-based speakers you may have in the house and basic voice control via Alexa, Google or Siri, which is more of a marketing gimmick to be honest at this point. But, its video throughput is top notch and can serve as the perfect midway between having a full-blown 5.1 home-theater experience and anemic output from the TV speakers. If you love music but don’t mind an occasional show or two delivered with better clarity, power and punch, the Marantz NR1200 may just be the best of the breed.